The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

Palm Sunday is one of the few Sundays during the year where there isn’t a sermon. In part this is so that we take the time to listen to the entire narrative of Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, so that we reflect upon Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane, His arrest, His trial, His suffering, His time on the cross, and His death.

This is certainly important, but it’s at the expense of not spending much time focused on the events of Palm Sunday itself. There are very few events recorded by all four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Mark doesn’t cover Christmas. John doesn’t cover Jesus’ temptation, Jesus’ Transfiguration, or the Last Supper. Only one miracle is covered by all four (the feeding of the 5,000). Jesus’ suffering and death are recorded by all four, but even Jesus’ resurrection is only pronounced by Mark. Jesus doesn’t actually appear risen from the dead in Mark’s Gospel.

But each writer covers Palm Sunday and Jesus procession into Jerusalem as He rides on a donkey. Each author tells the story a little bit differently, but we see a crowd gathered that shouts “Hosanna!” which means “save us now.”

What the people shouting “Hosanna!” wanted was an earthly salvation, a deliverance from a political occupation that left the Jewish nation as second-class citizens in their own land. Jesus did not deliver what they expected or wanted. Jesus delivered what they needed: salvation from sin and death.

This is often true in our lives. We shout “Hosanna!” to Jesus hoping to be saved from one thing or another. And Jesus always delivers. He always saves us, but sometimes we don’t realize exactly what we need to be saved from. Sometimes we don’t realize that God is constantly working to save us from all sorts of evils.

It is at this point that the Lord’s Prayer becomes so important, as we pray both “Thy will be done,” and “Deliver us from evil.”

As we enter Holy Week, we pray Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done to save us from the evils that we don’t even realize are at our doorstep. Hosanna! Save us now.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy  

Last Saturday, March 16, the council members gathered for a meeting in which we took some time to think and talk about the current state of First Lutheran Church and Preschool, and we envisioned what things might look like in the next five to ten years.

My agenda for the day was pretty simple: ask some questions. I came into the meeting with six questions, but we were blessed by an abundance of good conversation and only got to four of them.

We contemplated where we saw First Lutheran in the next 5-10 years.  We discussed what First Lutheran does well. We shared some places we thought First Lutheran could see some improvement. And we considered the needs of our surrounding community.

These conversations covered a lot of ground that I don’t need to go into detail about, but it was a joy to hear people speak with hope about the future of First Lutheran. There seems to be a sense of energy and optimism that was quite refreshing. There was a consensus about several things we do well. Our preschool was mentioned as a consensus strength that meets a major community need, has a good reputation in the community, and furthers our mission of making friends for Jesus. The events we sponsor was a consensus strength. The hard work and dedication that goes into Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving, Breakfast with Santa, the Crab Feed, the Easter Egg Hunt, VBS, and other events helps our reputation in the community and provides opportunities for fellowship and service.

There were many other strengths mentioned, but there were also a few items that need our attention in the weeks, months, and years to come.

At my ordination, Pastor Zelt gave me five pieces of wisdom to hold on to. The first was, “Lead your people where God wants them to go.” I’m the type of person who likes to lead by building consensus. In seeking to build this consensus, the council and I will be seeking some feedback on a few changes we are considering. Nothing is set in stone. None of these are earth shattering. None of these are being pushed forward by one person. They are each considerations the council wants to pursue because we believe this is where God is leading us at this point in our history.

As we move forward in faith, I want to communicate how encouraged I was by this council meeting, by our organization’s leadership, and by what God is doing in our midst. I hope you are encouraged as well as we continue to follow Jesus together.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

When I was in college, I sang in various choirs throughout my time there. We always did tours during Holy Week around the country. On one of these tours, I think my sophomore year, our choir director selected the most difficult song I’ve ever had to sing, a song I actually couldn’t sing the entire way through. It was called Song for Athene. If you search for it on YouTube and give a listen, you might be wondering why it was so challenging for me to sing. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song, but it’s pretty slow and standard for a good choir.

In those days I sang Bass 2, the lowest notes on the page. The Bass 2 part for Song for Athene is one note. One. Note. Now you’re probably really confused. How could one note be the hardest song I’ve ever sung? The one note was an F. It’s the note just below the staff in the bass clef. My fellow Bass 2s and I had to hold that F, staggering our breathing, for about seven minutes. I sang that song nearly 100 times and I never ever made it to the end. About four minutes into the song my voice couldn’t hit that note anymore. I waited for 30 seconds, tried again, and just struggled into the song was over.

Sometimes the most challenging things in life are the things that don’t require a lot of flash or thought or even talent, but they do require prolonged consistency and steadiness.

This is how Lent feels to me. Lent requires a level of persistence and steadiness that is hard to maintain. The tasks are no more challenging than in Epiphany or Advent or any other time of the year. But in Lent, I sometimes find myself needing a breath, needing to take extra breaks before I start again.

And that’s okay. I am, after all, only human. Life continues its symphony around me, even when I need to take a break and breathe.

As you journey toward the cross this Lenten season, don’t forget to breathe.

God’s Blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

Aside from running, one of the things I do in my spare time is listen to audio books. I recently finished (not for the first time) C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. It’s the third book in his so-called “Space Trilogy.”

It’s pretty strange. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but it’s a science fiction thriller filled with an odd combination of myth and religion and politics.

One of the concepts Lewis unfolds that is absolutely fascinating is the concept of the inner ring. This is a sociological phenomenon in which people try to get to the center of power and control. It doesn’t necessarily mean having the highest position, but rather having the most influence, seeming like the most important person.

You see this in every institution. At the seminary for example, one professor put it to me this way in his own experience. There are only a select few who get to teach at the seminary. There are even fewer who teach the most important department: practical theology. There are even fewer who teach the most important subject: preaching. And even fewer, only two, who teach preaching full-time…and I’m better than the other guy.

Notice how the rings narrow down smaller and smaller (from school to department to subject to full-time on the subject) until it is just you. Some people are drawn to this sort of exclusivity and selectivity. Their ambition drives them further and further toward power and self-importance.

This sort of thinking does not work in the Body of Christ. As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’” In the church, the choir cannot say to the Sunday school teachers “I have no need of you.” The elders cannot say to the trustees “I have no need of you.” And the pastor cannot say to anyone “I have no need of you.”

Everyone is important. Everyone is needed. Every gift and skill and passion that God has given to us as His people is necessary for the health and vitality of the church.

Which also means that you cannot say of yourself, “The church doesn’t need me.” Because we do. We need you. We are not healthy without you.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

Through the Lenten season, our Sunday morning Bible study group has been studying a few of the Minor Prophets. We’ve looked at Joel, Jonah, and Zephaniah. This week we’ll study Habakkuk. Next week is Haggai. These are all books of the Bible that don’t get a lot of attention. Most people know the story of Jonah from Sunday School, but we barely ever consider the other books. It’s more preparation time for me when we study a book I haven’t spent much time in, but it’s been a joy to dig into these books and discover what God says through these prophets of old.

After Easter, we’ll start a new Bible study series that I plan to call: “Confirmation Verses in Context.” It is a tradition in many Lutheran churches to have a rite of confirmation for members when they’re between sixth and ninth grade. (Or for adults when they go through confirmation.)  These confirmands are assigned (or get to choose) a confirmation verse. This is often a verse that is worth memorizing and is meaningful to them in some way.

Yet verses that are pulled from the Bible without context often lose meaning or have their meaning twisted without the proper context. I am planning this study in order to mine the depths of these meaningful, personal verses.

So, if you have a confirmation verse, and would be so kind as to share what that is with me, I’d appreciate it.

God’s blessings on your week!

Pastor Andy

This Wednesday we began the season of Lent. Numerous things might come to your mind when you think about Lent. You might think about the ashes of Ash Wednesday. You might consider Lenten disciplines such as giving up something like chocolate, coffee, or meat. You might think about the tender moments of the Last Supper or Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. You might ponder the agony of Gethsemane or the cross.

It is a tradition at First Lutheran (so I am told) that for the Lenten season we switch from our usual order of worship (Divine Service, Setting Two) to Divine Service, Setting Three. If, like me, you grew up with The Lutheran Hymnal (also called TLH or “the red hymnal,”) this is page 15.

The wording of this order of worship is a bit different. One word that I often hear people complain about is in the confession of sins. Together we confess before our almighty God, our merciful Father, beginning with these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…”

Miserable. There is a word with some baggage. I immediately think of how a person might feel if they had the flu. Miserable, achy, wretched, a person to be pitied.

Miserable has become almost entirely negative in its usage. Nobody wants to be miserable. Confessing that we are miserable might not be terribly true if we only think of miserable as a wretched, unhappy person that none of us wants to be around.

At the root of miserable is the Latin word miser. It’s where we get our English word “miser,” as in a stingy person. But it also appears in the Latin version of our historic liturgy in the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).

It’s this phrase: miserere nobis, which means “have mercy upon us.”

To be miserable in that sense is not to be unhappy or stingy or wretched, but rather to be one who needs mercy. Since that is the case, I think we can all easily confess that we are miserable, for we are truly in need of God’s mercy, and He has given it to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

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